Thousands of people died within a month of being discharged from the region's-crisis hit mental health trust, shocking new figures have shown.

An independent review of the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust found that close to 2,000 people died within a month of leaving the trust's care.

The figure has heightened fears about the performance of the organisation - which has been in special measures four times in a decade - and the number of its patients who may have taken their own lives.

The audit report was commissioned to try to find out more about this issue, but it discovered such shortfalls in the trust's record-keeping that it was unable to produce a precise number.

It did, however, include a figure showing 1,953 people died within a month of being discharged, between April 2019 and September 2022.

This figure included 278 whose date of discharge was the same as the date they died.

However, the trust said this figure was a result of the way the data was recorded - rather than showing the patient was discharged and died on the same day.

Not all the deaths were necessarily suicide. They may also have been from accidents or natural causes, or other deaths where a coroner could not conclusively say it was a result of suicide.

However, campaigners say the numbers are yet more evidence of the chronic problems at the trust.

A spokesman for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said: "This is a scandal. Those responsible need to hang their heads in shame, but they also need to go.

"From Zoe Billingham, the NSFT chairman, who has continued to be very vocal about policing from her previous role but who has been silent up to now on both this scandal and the failings of NSFT, to the chief executive, board and governors.

"Where have they been while people have been dying?"

Eastern Daily Press: Alan Hunter, who took his own life days after being discharged from NSFT's careAlan Hunter, who took his own life days after being discharged from NSFT's care (Image: Family submit)

One of those to die shortly after leaving the trust was Alan Hunter, who took his own life at the age of 72 on October 17, 2020 - days after being discharged.

The retired glazier, who suffered from depression and had made two previous suicide attempts, had been told by trust staff to try sudoku to manage his anxiety.

Eastern Daily Press: Stuart Richardson, chief executive of NSFTStuart Richardson, chief executive of NSFT (Image: NSFT)

In total, the audit report found that over the course of three years, there were 8,440 'unexpected deaths', defined as where a patient has "not been identified as critically ill or death is not expected" but who has died within six months of being in the trust's care.

After it was published earlier this week, trust bosses insisted improvements were already being made to record-keeping.

Stuart Richardson, chief executive of NSFT, said: "I have made it a priority for the trust to look back on the data to see if we have missed anything.

"However,  there is still more to do as we continue to review the deaths of everyone who has had contact with our services over the past five years.

"We have a duty of care to our public and service users and so it is important for us to dispel misunderstandings and assumptions that all deaths of those known to NSFT equate to deaths related to poor care.

Eastern Daily Press: Campaign to save mental health services in Norfolk and Suffolk. Pictures: Brittany Woodman

"Going forward, we commit to providing a consistent set of information for NSFT's board and the public, with quarterly figures that will be comparable over time."

The trust said that over the past five years, 11,379 people had died after being in contact with NSFT - but claimed that just 259 of these had taken their own lives. This figure did not appear in the independent report.

Eastern Daily Press: Zoe Billingham, chairman of NSFT, has been urged to quit over the trust's mortality data scandalZoe Billingham, chairman of NSFT, has been urged to quit over the trust's mortality data scandal (Image: Geoff Pugh Photography Limited)



A previous version of this story, which was also published on the front of the June 29 edition of the Eastern Daily Press. reported that 278 patients had died on the same day of their discharge.

While the figure was reported in the Grant Thornton report, it included cases when the person's discharge was backdated to the same day as their death.

A statement issued by NSFT regarding this figure reads: "If an individual is under our care - for example if they receive mental health support in our community - when they die, our clinicians will back-date the individuals discharge date to the day they died.

"This is entirely appropriate and standard practice when discharging people from NHS care."